About That Malaysian Jet

by Dave Schuler on July 18, 2014

I don’t really have a great deal to say about the Malaysian passenger jet that was shot down over the eastern Ukraine:

A surface-to-air missile struck a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people that went down Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The official said U.S. intelligence and analysis of the situation determined that it was a single missile that struck the Boeing 777-200 aircraft while at cruising altitude. It is unclear whether the missile was fired from inside Ukrainian or Russian territory and who fired it, the official added.

I can see only a few likely possibilities.

  1. It was shot down by Russian regulars operating within Ukraine.
  2. It was shot down by Russian regulars who’d removed their uniforms operating within Ukraine (a war crime).
  3. It was shot down by pro-Russian Ukrainian irregulars who’d received a Buk missile from the Russians.
  4. It was shot down by somebody who’d captured a Buk missile from somebody.

Whichever of these is the case it’s disturbing. Alternative C is particularly disturbing in its foolhardiness. I doubt that this event is a “game-changer” as some are claiming so much as a signal that events in Ukraine are out of anyone’s control.

That’s particularly distressing since the only power in a position to bring things under control is Russia.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw July 18, 2014 at 9:28 am

Assuming Russian complicity at some level, the consequences are an offset of Russian soft-power capital, the extent to which depends on how one calculated its added international prestige from events like the Olympics and diplomacy in Syria. I personally think the accounts were already wiped clean by the invasion of Ukraine, but people score these things differently.

And I should add that I don’t think I or the U.S. are the targets of any soft-power agenda from Moscow, it’s Russia’s neighbors and courted associated powers. In which case it might be worse if the cause is Russian incompetence, as opposed to mischievous designs.

michael reynolds July 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

Putin’s policies now lie in ruins. He had already alienated the West -his customer base. He had already worried his neighbors, and his neighbors are not Canada. Now he’s Kaiser Wilhelm with his Lusitania moment (H/T http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/07/18/the-lusitania-of-the-21st-century/ for the analogy.)

Of course this is especially devastating to American conservatives who ‘shipped Putin and Palin and touted the tiny shirtless thug as their macho beau idéal.

jan July 18, 2014 at 10:56 am

One really has to look at ’cause and effect’ aspects of foreign policy. As unfortunate as this commercial jet being shot out of the sky is, it is just one of many incidents that seem to be unraveling the ‘tranquility’ of peace around the world.

It seems that muscles of super powers and terrorists are being flexed everywhere you look — from China, Russia, the ME, North Korea, South America, Africa. In the meantime, the US’s stance has been in retreat, ‘leading from behind,’ reducing the military, exuding strong words, red lines and milquetoast actions.

For isolationists and those deriding strong push backs as being nothing more than exhibiting Neanderthal, Hawkish tendencies, everything is fine. But, one has to wonder about the eventual outcome of all this chaos, in the midst of the US neutering itself. Allowing Iran to become a nuclear power, ignoring the build-up of ISIS, depending on a ‘reset button’ to deal with Russia, disavowing Israel’s aggressive self defense tactics towards Hamas after some 1200 missiles were tossed into their country, as well as the aversion of this administration to draw clear borders and actively exercise existing laws for people crossing over, in helter skelter fashion, instead shipping them hastily in bulk to big and small communities all over America — what will this kind of foreign policy implementation reap or wreck on this country?

Cstanley July 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm

This may be a PR blunder for Putin, but does he really care when he controls all of the natural gas supply to Europe?

Andy July 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Putin’s policies are far from in ruin. I think he’s done rather well, but of course time will tell. This tragedy will affect Ukrainian separtists most of all (assuming they shot this aircraft down, which I believe is almost certain) and Putin will be forced to switch to a more subersive strategy to put pressure on the Ukrainian government. Russia’s ability to play spoiler in Ukraine to prevent it from joining the EU and NATO is intact. Sure, the West hates Putin even more after Ukraine and now this, but that’s not saying much. He’s got Crimea, an area of significant strategic importance. Ukraine is weak, divided and unable to join NATO or the EU. How many billions will the EU want to spend to try to prop Ukraine? Not much, certainly not enough to rescue it. Europe and Ukraine remain dependent on Russian energy and that isn’t likely to change. Syria looks likely to survive as a Russian client state maybe with help from the US and Iran if we decide to take on ISIL. A US war with Iran looks more distant than ever.

Certainly it won’t be cost-free for Russia and the economic price will hurt quite a bit, but it’s a price Russia is more than willing to pay compared to the alternative.

Michael Reynolds July 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Jan:

Do yourself a favor and look at Robald Reagan’s response when the Soviets shit down the KAL flight. You won’t get it from Fox. Look it up yourself. Then come back and explain how weak Obama is.

Michael Reynolds July 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Um … Shot.

TastyBits July 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm

@jan

… those deriding strong push backs …

Show me a strong serious push back, and I will consider getting on board. To date, what has been proposed is silly actions by children who believe that the world of TV is real.

Allowing Iran to become a nuclear power …

This statement would only be made by somebody who lives in a nice safe neighborhood, and all those making it belong to the same crew. In nice safe neighborhoods, nice law abiding people follow the laws, and they obey the laws that do not “allow” them to have certain things.

In many of the neighborhoods I have lived in, this has not been the case. Law-abiding people have guns, carry concealed guns, carry loaded guns, do not use trigger locks, do not register their guns. The criminals are worse.

In these neighborhoods, your advice has been to move rather than to overthrow the ruling gangs.

Somehow, you propose that the US forbid Iran from having nuclear weapons. Will this be achieved by giving the Mullahs a stern talking to and sending them to bed without any supper?

Sanctions have worked really well. They worked so well the US invaded Iraq and N. Korea has/may have nuclear weapons. Supporting rebels has worked really well. Well, it has in the movies. In reality, the rebels get mowed down, but that is why you tell US citizens to move.

We do have a few techniques that work, but you and your crew are squeamish about getting your hands dirty. More than likely, there was a gun running operation going on in Benghazi, and it was probably one set of terrorists shipping arms to another set of terrorists. The US was probably coordinating the operation which is what we are good at.

It is all unsavory, but if you want to knock off ruthless dictators, you do not send the girl scouts. The problem is that the most effective elements are the most ruthless, but the most ruthless are the most apt to turn on you. In order to keep them under control, you need to have substantial control, and this leaves your fingerprints all over it.

The most trustworthy are the least ruthless, but they need the least control. They are useful if you need expendable forces, and you do not want your fingerprints all over it. This means that you support rebels such as the Iranian Green movement covertly, but you understand that they will be slaughtered. This move would be dependent upon achieving some goal.

You may want to have the Greens slaughtered to weaken the Iranians, and this would weaken Syria’s Iranian support. This in turn would also weaken Syria. It could also weaken Iranian influence in Iraq. This is just an example of one possible scenario. You would need to game out the scenarios.

The US’s offensive military and espionage capabilities have been seriously degraded since the end of the Cold War. Rebuilding those capabilities will take a lot of money. I doubt any hawk is willing to tax or borrow that amount of money, and there is not enough fraud, waste, and savings to cover what is needed.

If you really do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, you will need to take the capability from them. You can either invade or bomb. Invading is beyond the US capabilities without a draft, and you are probably going to get squeamish about a successful bombing campaign.

In addition to a lot of dumb bombs, you will need to use tactical and specialized nuclear weapons. In addition to being more effective, they send a message. They let everybody know that you mean business. The US will use nukes.

Otherwise, you are just a silly child stomping your feet and threatening everybody with your popgun.

steve July 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I think Andy has most of it. This may affect Putin’s attempts to participate in the international community for a while, but I doubt this affects things at home much. Assuming it is found to be separatists or Russians who fired the missile, they will cast aspersions on the findings and those who made them. Further proof that the world is allied against Russians. I think what this really shows is that we did well to not get our military involved. The place is a mess and we would not understand the locals well enough to be effective.

On the US domestic front, I believe this will make it a bit less likely the GOP nominates him for POTUS in 2016. They may have to find a new strong man to worship.

Steve

michael reynolds July 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I don’t think this will hurt Putin domestically, but oh, he’s hurt. He’s hurt in his pride. Putin quite enjoys strutting on the world stage, treated as an equal by the grown-ups. Now he’s just the latest in a very long line of Russian thugs.

He has his relationship with China, but it’s not quite the same. Russia could pretend equality with Germany, not with China. He’s the tail on the Chinese dog.

jan July 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm

“Do yourself a favor and look at Robald Reagan’s response when the Soviets shit down the KAL flight. You won’t get it from Fox. Look it up yourself. Then come back and explain how weak Obama is.”

Michael,

Here’s an excerpt from my earlier post:

“As unfortunate as this commercial jet being shot out of the sky is, it is just one of many incidents that seem to be unraveling the ‘tranquility’ of peace around the world.”

The “tranquility” reference was juxtapositioning the president’s press secretaries recent assessment of the world, according to Obama. Any “weakness,” however, suggested by me about President Obama’s foreign policy management, was applied in a cumulative sense, not a one-to-one comparison to the then President Reagan’s speech after the KAL flight downing. And, it’s not only Fox news who is criticizing the President on his foreign policy smarts, but other news organizations, ex military professionals, and ordinary people polled on what they think of this president’s foreign policy competence.

jan July 18, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Tasty,

The US is too politically correct to openly assume any aggressive action suggested by you to stop Iran and it’s nuclear ambitions. It did appear, though, that the earlier tough sanctions in place were creating financial hardship obstacles in the way of Iran’s nuclear zeal. Consequently, Kerry loosening them, via vague reassurances of slowing down their program, seemed irresponsible, in lieu of so few workable options we do have.

Now, there is rumor of extending our deadlines, giving Iran even more flexibility and time to process their enrichment goals. However, taking out any nuclear facilities will only happen if Israel makes a move to do so. Being they are engaged with invading Gaza, they’re probably too busy to take on yet another ME front.

TastyBits July 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm

@jan

When have sanctions ever done anything more than make those imposing the sanctions feel good about themselves? I thought the US invaded Iraq because sanctions were not working. I see how well they have worked for N. Korea.

You should be thrilled with President Obama’s sanctions against Russia. It looks like you and @michael reynolds agree on something.

… However, taking out any nuclear facilities will only happen if Israel makes a move to do so. …

I have not kept up on military hardware. Have Israeli planes gained additional fuel capacity, or will they sprinkle magic fairy dust on their engines? The Israelis cannot suspend the laws of physics.

Dave Schuler July 18, 2014 at 6:54 pm

When have sanctions ever done anything more than make those imposing the sanctions feel good about themselves?

I think that the sanctions imposed on South Africa were influential in moving the Afrikaaners to end apartheid. But there’s a major difference. The Afrikaaners clearly wanted to be thought of us Europeans and, consequently, were in a position to be shamed. The Russians don’t want to be Europeans.

jan July 18, 2014 at 7:35 pm

When have sanctions ever done anything more than make those imposing the sanctions feel good about themselves?

If sanctions weren’t having some kind of negative effect why were the Iranians so eager to have them lifted? Their economy supposedly was going south. People get unhappy when the economy is terrible, and too many restrictions are put on their lives. Consequently, pressuring an economy is one way to create internal turmoil, adding a destabilizing factor in keeping tight government control in place. This is something those in power don’t want to have happen in Iran — an example being the Green Iranian Revolution.

Like I said, there are few PC options to work with, so you work with what counter forces you have. However, we don’t even do that anymore.

steve July 18, 2014 at 8:21 pm

jan- Look up cognitive dissonance. You believe sanctions work. It was the Obama admin that applied the strict sanctions on Iran. Yet you believe they don’t want to destabilize Iran, because they didn’t try to help Khameini during the Green Revolution. (Yeah, I know what I said but couldn’t pass it up.)

Steve

TastyBits July 18, 2014 at 8:31 pm

@jan

So, the Iraq invasion was bullshit because sanctions were going to work. If only President Bush had urged the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the US would not have invaded. Oh wait, he did, and they are dead.

I have no problem sacrificing the Iranian Greens for some strategic goal, but you want to slaughter them for your own pleasure. That is the difference between you and those like you. You will only use violence in a half-assed manner.

One more thing. Why arm the Syrian rebels? Sanctions against Assad should bring him into line. Throw in a few UN resolutions for good measure.

It must be nice to live in your world. I have dealt with bad guys, and they do not respond anything at all like you all believe they do.

michael reynolds July 18, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Jan:

You are literally babbling at this point, contradicting yourself, ignoring actual history in favor of an astoundingly ignorant regurgitation of idiot Fox and Limbaugh talking points.

Jan, try the red pill. Just once. Open your tiny mind and glimpse reality. Come on, it’s not that scary.

Guarneri July 18, 2014 at 9:48 pm

I’m becoming concerned that Michael actually believes the silly screed he keeps posting. He’s adopted the Obama straw man technique in spades and it’s looking more and more mentally unbalanced all the time. I wonder what’s causing this desperation, given Obama’s boffo performance.

Michael Reynolds July 18, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Michael is currently sitting in the front of the plane on BA to Heathrow and is not concerned with a damn thing as the lounge offered Glenluvet 15.

But it’s sweet if you to be all protective of Jan. kind of sweet.
And God knows she needs to protection of the one guy who knows even less than she does.

Cheerio as we say. UK and Sicily. Time to turn off my electronic device.

jan July 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm

“jan- Look up cognitive dissonance. You believe sanctions work. “

Steve, my comment about sanctions is rooted in that it was one of the few acceptable options this country was willing to exercise, dealing with Iran. Mentioning our non-engagement in the Green Revolution was simply stating what was felt to be a lost opportunity to possibly change regimes in Iran early on in Obama’s presidency.

Where did Iraq sanctions come into my conversation, Tasty?

Most political observers, though, feel the sanctions imposed on Iran late in the Bush administration, and the even stricter ones taken up by the current administration were having at least some fiscal deficits on Iran’s economy. Now, there is talk that deadlines established, whether or not to re-impose these sanctions, will be delayed. So, even minor deterrence policies are subject to being scrapped, which, IMO, just widens the theme of ‘weakness’ that many around here seem to deny, when it comes to judging how Obama’s leadership is viewed around the world, by both our allies and our enemies

Scream all you want to Michael, but I see you being the one who has absented himself from reality by digesting only liberal MSM news and talking points. In the meantime, “Ciao,”….May Obama lollipops dance in your head during your flight.

Drew, much like the far right clung to Bush no matter how badly he sorted through various policy decisions, so does the left stick by Obama. The main difference is the left must defame and mock any opposition to their thinking to validate the incoherence of their POV to even themselves!

steve July 19, 2014 at 6:31 am

jan- It might help if you knew any real live Persians (Iranians). If the US had tried to intercede in any real way it would have undermined the rebels. Just note how Americans feel when outsiders try to interfere in our domestic affairs. Look at how Dave feels about outside money coming in to help Rahm. Lets face it, we are not good at nation building in the Middle East. We screw things up when we try. Look up Mossadegh.

Steve

TastyBits July 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

@jan

Where did Iraq sanctions come into my conversation, Tasty?

Iraq and N. Korea are two of the larger failures of sanctions. Somethings are relevant whether you find them uncomfortable or not.

Sanctions are nothing more than siege warfare, and siege warfare is only effective if you are totally committed to winning. The defenders can always hold out longer than most people think, and they usually can get supplies smuggled in.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Most political observers …

Where to begin? Are these the same people who believe that Israeli planes can be loaded with enough munitions to effectively bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities and with enough fuel to make a round trip? Either they are too lazy to actually become informed about the subject matter, or they believe the Israelis can somehow defy the laws of physics.

Are these the same people who thought Assad would fall in “weeks if not days”? They were totally clueless about the Russian involvement in Libya and how the Europeans screwed them. Once again, they were wrong.

For me, this puts these people into a deep hole, and it is their responsibility to redeem themselves not mine. I suspect that if you named these political observers that they would be “observers” in many diverse fields.

I am fascinated by how people are drawn to these “observers”. They have no knowledge of the subject matter they “observe”. I doubt any of them have read much of the primary sources that they would need to have a deep understanding of the subject matter, but this does not stop them.

In 2007, I suspect I would find them “observing” housing was not in a bubble, and prices could not fall. I was right, and they were wrong. I could list any number of areas where their “observations” were wrong, and I was right. It would not matter. They will give you pink ponies and fairies. You will only get cold hard reality from me.

Is there anything that one of these “observers” could say that would cause you to lose faith?

Zachriel July 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

steve: If the US had tried to intercede in any real way it would have undermined the rebels.

Yes. The Iranians are a patriotic people who proudly trace their history back thousands of years, and they still remember western meddling in their affairs in the 1950s.

People don’t seem to understand that the Iran’s theocratic regime has broad support. While many hipsters in Iran want greater freedom, those in the villages want to hold on to traditional values, and feel threatened by modernity. Furthermore, unlike a dictatorship, Iran is a religious oligarchy, meaning power is distributed. There’s no easy to way to dislodge the government.

In pre-war Iraq, power was concentrated in a single individual, so it was rather easy to topple the regime, but without a working government, even harder to reestablish control. The power vacuum led to the rise of militias. Consider that when Americans tried to hold Sunni areas, they had to fight street-by-street. When ISIS entered those same areas, they hardly had to fight at all.

As for nuclear weapons, any country that wants them, can eventually develop them. We’re talking 1940s technology. The solution is to convince most countries that it is not in their best interest to develop nuclear weapons.

While Iran has said they don’t want nuclear weapons, they apparently want a breakout capability. From some of the comments on this thread, it seems the Americans are going to invade any time now, so a deterrent would seem to make sense from their point of view.

Andy July 19, 2014 at 11:05 am

“While Iran has said they don’t want nuclear weapons, they apparently want a breakout capability. From some of the comments on this thread, it seems the Americans are going to invade any time now, so a deterrent would seem to make sense from their point of view.”

A breakout capability is not a deterrent, quite the opposite. The quickest way for Iran to get into a war with the US is to attempt to get a deterrent.

Jan,

Unless there is a reasonable chance to actually change/overthrow the government, meddling with nascent opposition groups does more harm than good. It undermines their legitimacy and makes them appear to be the tool of a foreign power. The green revolution did not have a chance and we we were right not to try to help them.

Zachriel July 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Andy: A breakout capability is not a deterrent, quite the opposite.

That’s what happens when there are conflicting priorities.

“The premier loves surprises”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmCKJi3CKGE#t=03m47s

Dave Schuler July 19, 2014 at 1:46 pm

A breakout capability is not a deterrent, quite the opposite.

Not only that. A small number of nuclear weapons are not deterrents. They are targets.

Zachriel July 19, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Andy: A breakout capability is not a deterrent, quite the opposite.

Which makes it a game of chicken.

Dave Schuler: A small number of nuclear weapons are not deterrents. They are targets.

That was the problem in the Cold War. Could you destroy every single weapon? Or will just one make it through and wipe out a major city. Even one is sufficient for deterrence.

Guarneri July 19, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Your honor, I rest my case.

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